Saturday, June 5, 2010

This is Why We Can't Be Bound By a Schedule

June 5, 2010

Roanoke to Staunton (pronounced Stanton)We grab our Starbucks lattes and hop on the highway at 8:30, figuring it will take us an hour and a half max to hightail it to Staunton, where we had planned to be yesterday. Over four hours later we are finally to the Staunton exit. What happened?

First Dick sees a sign advertising Natural Bridge, and I tell him I recall it being mentioned as "one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World" in one of our guides. Of course we can't pass it up, since it is just a couple miles off the highway. Then, when we go to buy tickets, we can't just buy a ticket to the Natural Bridge—we have to spend $18 each for a ticket that gets us admission to the Bridge, a simulated Native American village with costumed interpreters, a nature trail leading to a waterfall, a wax museum and factory, and a toy museum.

The Natural Bridge is spectacular. We walk a path along Cedar Creek, which has had millions of years to carve the 215 foot deep canyon which the bridge spans. We admire the view, take some pictures, and hike the one mile nature trail beyond it to Lacey Falls at a brisk pace, not only because we are in a bit of a hurry to be on our way to Staunton, but also because a wedding is scheduled to take place in the middle of the bridge trail in forty minutes. We peek into the Indian Village, but get out quickly, because we realize this is the kind of thing that really sucks us in, and we could be here for an hour if we aren't careful.

We have to get our money's worth out of those expensive tickets, so we go into the toy museum, which looks like a collection of stuff from garage sales unimaginatively arranged. Two minutes later, we are out the exit and on our way across the street to the Wax Museum. It is more poorly illuminated than most haunted houses, and the figures are of similar quality and creepiness. The first diorama is Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (you can see them in their splendor due to Dick's camera flash), and the last one is The Last Supper. In between are a bunch of historic figures looking the worse for wear. We have to wait an interminable eight minutes to exit, because The Last Supper is accompanied by an eight minute show, and you have to wait for the show to be over to exit the Museum. We are the only ones in the group of people huddled by the door to the Theater to skip the show and go straight to the exit.

We spend just long enough in the Wax Museum Factory to learn that in fact the figures in the museum are made of Latex, not Wax. Doesn't Virginia have any truth in advertising laws? Shouldn't they be required to call this a Latex Museum?

Let's just say that this multi-feature attraction is highly overpriced, and the tickets are highly over-bundled.

On the way back to the highway, we find a true treasure that makes this whole detour worthwhile—Foamhenge. Loyal readers may recall our fascination with roadside attractions inspired by Stonehenge. We take it as a great omen that we chanced upon Foamhenge, a full size replica of Stonehenge executed in Styrofoam, on only the second day of this year's summer road trip.

Mark Cline, the creator of this work of art, provides a curatorial sign contrasting Foamhenge with Stonehenge. Stonehenge took 1500 years to erect, and Foamhenge took six weeks. The Stonehenge stones weigh up to 50 tons, and the Foamhenge Styrofoam blocks weigh up to 420 pounds. It took 600 to 1000 men to build Stonehenge, while Foamhenge was the work of "4-5 Mexicans and 1 crazy white man."

No admission fee to see this man-made wonder. We admire Mark's handiwork, appreciate his sense of whimsy, take a few photos and are on our way once again.

We grab a quick lunch at Mrs. Rowe's Family Restaurant, a Staunton institution passed through generations of the Rowe family since 1947, and head to the Woodrow Wilson Birthplace and Museum.

The guided tour of Wilson's birthplace was outstanding, although it revealed that in fact Tommy Woodrow Wilson only lived there until the age of 11 months. His father was a Presbyterian minister, and was called by another church soon after the future President's birth.

The Museum is owned by a private foundation, and it operates on a much smaller scale than the other Presidential Museums and Libraries we have visited. So, even though we probably spent more time studying the curation there than most visitors, we were left with many questions about Wilson's career. The only American President who has earned a PhD, Wilson became the President of Princeton University, made some unpopular decisions and was ousted from the post at the same time as he became Governor of New Jersey, and then catapulted in short order to the Presidency of the United States.

On a personal level, in the first two years of his Presidency, he experienced tremendous upheaval. He was inaugurated in 1913, and one of his daughters was married at the White House later that year, another married early in 1914. His beloved wife Ellen died in the summer of 1914, and he remarried in 1915.

As has been the case with all the Presidential Museums we have visited, we left with a greater appreciation for the challenges he faced and the decisions he made. He proposed, fought for and signed the Federal Reserve Act, and women were granted the right to vote with the 19th Amendment ratified during his second term. He was a child in Georgia during the Civil War and was President during WWI, when Allied casualties were 22.4 million and Central Powers casualties totaled 16.4 million. His experiences with war inspired him to use the Paris Peace Talks of 1919 to try to establish an international organization to resolve disputes without war. He won the Nobel Peace prize in 1919 for helping to establish the League of Nations, even though he failed to get his own country to join the League, and it broke down without US support.

To round out what turned out to be a very full day we took in a play at the American Shakespeare Center's Blackfriar's Playhouse, the world's only re-creation of Shakespeare's indoor theater. The play was a modern adaptation of Francis Beaumont's 1607 "comic masterpiece," The Knight of the Burning Pestle. At intermission we decided that we had experienced enough of the authentic seventeenth century play watching experience to call it a night without coming back to see the second act. We noticed that we were not the only ones who seemed to be going out for a breath of fresh air at intermission and taking a long walk away from the theater.


  1. LOL at Foamhenge! Glad you stopped for this potpourri. Wilson seems to be the patron saint/president of profs, but I guess we all have feet of clay, latex, sometimes foam.

  2. I am loving this! "Never live the same day twice", do you?!

    Dick, I really was impressed with the photos..all of them but the birds are mag as well as the narrative, Gayl.

    Look forward to each posting.